Neurons in the lower brainstem that control consummatory behavior are widely distributed in the reticular formation (RF) of the pons and medulla. The intrinsic membrane properties of neurons within this distributed system shape complex excitatory and inhibitory inputs from both orosensory and central structures implicated in homeostatic control to produce coordinated oromotor patterns. The current study explored the intrinsic membrane properties of neurons in the intermediate subdivision of the medullary reticular formation (IRt). Neurons in the IRt receive input from the overlying (gustatory) nucleus of the solitary tract and project to the oromotor nuclei. Recent behavioral pharmacology studies as well as computational modeling suggest that inhibition in the IRt plays an important role in the transition from a taste-initiated oromotor pattern of ingestion to one of rejection. The present study explored the impact of hyperpolarization on membrane properties. In response to depolarization, neurons responded with either a tonic discharge, an irregular/burst pattern or were spike-adaptive. A hyperpolarizing pre-pulse modulated the excitability of most (82%) IRt neurons to subsequent depolarization. Instances of both increased (30%) and decreased (52%) excitability were observed. Currents induced by the hyperpolarization included an outward 4-aminopyridine (4-AP) sensitive K+ current that suppressed excitability and an inward cation current that increased excitability. These currents are also present in other subpopulations of RF neurons that influence the oromotor nuclei and we discuss how these currents could alter firing characteristics to impact pattern generation.
2010 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.